Monday, March 02, 2015

Value Education: Much Ado About Something

'Value Education' is claimed to be the next big thing in Indian Education. As the expansion of Engineering and Management Education has somewhat stalled - these have failed to improve employment prospects and demand for these has declined - the buzzword is now Values. 

At the outset, one would assume that the need may have arisen because of the overt technical concentration in the Indian education system which leaves its graduates wanting in terms of moral commitments and social engagement. Also, Value Education, as it is practised and promoted in India, is also in line with the general revivalist tendencies as witnessed in the country today. It isn't about ethical and moral exploration, but about tradition and heritage; in most cases, this means pop-Hinduvta, extracts from traditional texts presented in PowerPoint, someone chanting out Sanskrit sound bites parsed with pie charts.

At the surface, the trend very much reflects the conversations inside Indian companies. Indian companies are appointing Chief Value Officers (CVO), following the lead, perhaps, of Future Group, whose CVO, Devdutt Pattnaik, made a name for himself culling out insights from Indian mythologies and promoting an Indian way of Management (See my earlier post here). One would suspect that the fever pitch about Value Education (or, more broadly, about imbibing Traditional Values through Education) originated with this, Educators bereft of ideas trying to latch onto latest fads available, and even in this, the whole proposition of Value Education is completely misdirected. 

The reason, I shall argue, Indian employers are talking about Values is not a certain discovery of Indianness, or a moral imperative, but rather due to a practical and commercial imperative. The Indian businesses are focused on servicing the bottom-of-the-pyramid markets in rural India, and this means engaging with a large mass of consumers, and to serve them, employees, unexposed to the ideas and rhetoric of modern business. This requires rejigging business practices and ways of engagement, both inside and outside the company. Mr Pattnaik and his kind may use Indian mythologies, but all they are doing is creating an appropriate engagement model. This is why CVOs are primarily to be seen in businesses which are engaging with deep India, Future Group (Retail), ITC (Tobacco and Agricultural Products), Hindustan Lever (FMCG) etc. 

At the demand side, then, the requirement is driven by the quest for the new markets, and the approach is sociological rather than philosophical. The educators, disconnected as they are from the realities of the employers, have indeed taken this as an affirmation of the rising-India thesis, and engaged in theological education with gusto. To be sure, Mr Pattanaik (and others) is affirming globalisation by packaging Indian mythologies for advancing modern consumption into hitherto unexplored consumer groups, but the educators are twisting the messages to construe some kind of ascetic rejection of globalisation altogether. This is another example of employer requirements being completely misunderstood by the educators.

Now, indignant educators may claim that their drive for Value Education has nothing to do with the conversation about Corporate Values, and rather about Indian culture, which may form the basis of any education. There is some truth in this perhaps, though undeniably, the corporate enthusiasm has made this conversation fashionable in the first place. The appeal of revivalism notwithstanding, the private Engineering Colleges, anxious for placement of its graduates, do not have a track record of doing anything outside what they thought was essential. And, finally, the modern educational institutions springing up all over India are very much part of the expansion of the global economy, and there is no problem if they understood and caught up with what employers want. 


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